It’s like it happened yesterday. I woke up Christmas morning. It was still dark outside. No one else was awake in the house. I made my way from my bedroom, through the living room, to the dining room where my family always placed the Christmas tree. My eyes must have been as big as saucers as I saw the bright blue Rex Rocket wagon beside the tree. Santa had come! And I didn’t get a red wagon like everyone else had. I got a blue one! This was special!
I would have been no more than six or seven on that Christmas mornings. Some things about gifts from Santa continued through most of my life. Even in my forties, my mother still wrapped Christmas presents with tags that said, “From Santa.” Of course, like other children, I knew when I was a child that there was no guy in a red suit living at the North Pole. But more than fifty years later, I still believe in Santa Claus.
Of course there is the historic Santa Claus: good ol’ St. Nicholas, the bishop of the port city of Myra in a land known as Lycia – now part of Turkey. Nicholas, born in the third century, inherited his family’s wealth. He understood the teachings of Jesus and used that wealth for those in need. There’s the story of the merchant who lost all of his money. His plan was to sell his three daughters as indentured servants. Nicholas stepped in and provided dowries to enable the girls to marry. There are other stories of Nicholas caring for children including one about a boy saved from slavery and another about Nicholas providing food for children in time of famine. As the bishop of a port city, Nicholas was also known for his good deeds toward sailors and travelers. To those in need, Nicholas was generous and extended himself in exceptional ways. He was also a lover of truth and justice for the marginalized who then like now often received unjust treatment in society.
Our modern-day Santa Claus is rooted in the legacy of St. Nicholas of Myra and draws on other legendary figures including the Norse deity Odin The jolly man in the sleigh with reindeer began to emerge in the consciousness of the United States in the 1820’s with the publication of Clement Clark Moore’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. The image of the man in the bright red suit living at the North Pole came later in 1863 in drawings published in Harper’s Weekly. But the true nature of the American Santa Claus was not fully revealed until 1897 when an editor at the New York Sun, Francis Pharcellus Church, responded to a letter from a little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. (http://www.nysun.com/editorials/yes-virginia/68502/). To quote part of this beautiful letter, Church wrote:
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”
My belief is Santa Claus is not about a belief in a person who flies around the world one night in a magic sleigh. My belief in Santa Claus is a belief that in a world where people continue to struggle and die from the lack of basic necessities; with countries torn by war, neighborhoods by violence, and homes by abuse; in the midst of corporate greed, financial legislation to benefit the rich, and mean-spiritedness toward the poor; with people divided one from another based on gender, race, nationality, sexuality, and religion; that with all the horrible things people do to each other, it is possible to be generous, kind, jolly, warm, welcoming, compassionate, and kind. Santa Claus embodies something of our best selves. Santa Claus reminds us that it is better to give than to receive, to care for others rather than to look out for ourselves, to share what we have rather than horde our riches for selfish purposes. Santa Claus reminds us that there is nothing more important than to bring joy and happiness into the world. Just like Santa Claus, we have the ability to be generous each and every day of our lives.
As long as my mother had the ability to wrap Christmas presents, she always marked the gift tags “From Santa.” Indeed, as an adolescent I thought, “That’s just stupid! We know she wrapped it!” But I got over my self-absorbed teen-age self and came to realize that my mother had it right. She knew that a gift from Santa Claus was given freely, without the expectation of reciprocation. Giving something “From Santa” was meant as a gift to bring joy and was shared with generosity.
Yes, today, more than ever, I believe in Santa Claus. I believe we are able to be generous people who extend ourselves for others. Yes, we can start at Christmas. But the lesson of Santa Claus is to live generously throughout the year.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.